It’s Friday night and Bradford Cox is, by his own admission, “losing it”. The singer and the backing members of his Atlas Sound project are stranded somewhere outside Baltimore, their tour van laid up and the minutes ticking down to their scheduled appearance later that night in Philadelphia. Cox, who’s also the leading man in atmospheric Atlanta rockers Deerhunter, has a reputation for being a drama queen, and the fact that he might miss the Philly gig has him particularly anxious. When, for instance, he’s asked about his planned March trip to Morocco to record music with friends and fellow indie rockers Ed Droste (Grizzly Bear) and Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy), the garrulous singer-producer gives the affair an air of knotty intrigue.
“That’s actually funny, because I just got off the phone with Ed trying to cancel it,” he says. “I’m just tired and I’ve got issues I’ve got to sort out—not like cryptic issues, but just stuff to do, like laundry-type stuff. I mean, I want to go on the trip—the ticket’s already booked—but I just don’t know if I’m doing it. I don’t know what’s going on with that. I wish I knew. It’s complicated. I might go, I might not. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to. It’s not that I don’t want to, but it’s just hard. I don’t know, you know?”
For now, Cox is channeling his energies into Atlas Sound, the guise under which he explores melancholia in a wide variety of musical forms, from the reverb-drenched tones of ’50s-era girl-pop to the ghostly echoes of postmillennial ambient techno.
As a teenager, Cox was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, a genetic condition that weakens the body’s connective tissues, and whose sufferers—most famously Joey Ramone—tend to be tall and extremely thin. In Cox’s case, the disorder is just the most obvious manifestation of his otherness; in concert, he’s been known to wear dresses and perform what one reviewer has called “acts of ritual self-abasement”. A ruthlessly confessional blogger, Cox has gone so far as to post photos of his own feces on his Web site—perhaps the most extreme example of a public openness he’s now starting to reconsider. Where he was once convinced that his first full-length as Atlas Sound, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel, would be a therapeutic album—both for him and his audience—now he’s not so sure.
“I don’t know what I meant by that because at some point, I just stopped caring,” says the 25-year-old Georgia native. “I think it got misinterpreted as being some kind of emo thing or something, which is not where I’m at at all. I’m not constantly thinking about my feelings—sometimes I don’t even have any feelings. I regret sharing all that stuff. I feel stupid now that I see it all in front of me. That’s not what I intended on presenting myself as. Maybe I’ve been naive in the way I’ve been so open about stuff.”
Cox’s personal dramas wouldn’t be worth considering if he weren’t such a compelling musician. Working under his Atlas Sound guise, he’s able to elaborate on Deerhunter’s otherworldly tendencies, wrapping jagged tonalities in layers of gauzy ambiance to create a pocket-sized version of My Bloody Valentine. A fitting companion to Deerhunter’s excellent 2007 album, Cryptograms—and a precursor to that band’s forthcoming 2008 full-length—Let the Blind hints at the heights Cox might reach if he can efface his public image and turn all his energies inward.
Atlas Sound plays Pat’s Pub on Wednesday (March 5).